Friday, 16 December 2011

Greyfriars, Friargate, Preston

‘20 blokes dressed in miniskirts and dresses who walk into a bar….’
No, there isn’t a punch line this was just Greyfriars on a Wednesday.
Fortunately, I’ve been into this Wetherspoons pub before so I was mentally prepared for whatever rabble may await behind the big double doors.
‘They’ll catch their deaths dressed like that’, I thought as I picked my way around Wonderbra William and Tottering Tony.
Hidden in a corner set back from the cross-dressers was the Evening Post’s sports desk night out which was in full swing by the time I arrived.
In breaks between the main topic of conversation, Preston North End manager Phil Brown’s departure, my mind drifted worryingly back to the Men In Pink (MIP).
In most pubs, I realised, their presence would have turned most the locals’ beer sour.
But because the building had clearly been designed with a space rocket dealership in mind, there was plenty of room for people to keep out the way.
While the pub lacks history and character, it gives a great showing on the real ales.
In the interests of scientific research I attempted to count the number of pumps which stretch along the enormous bar but it proved too traumatic to try to shimmy around MIP.
So, I asked the barman for a pint of Ruddles and he asked me for just £1.65.
‘Thank you’, I said warmly. Adding in my head ‘You’ve just put me in the Christmas spirit for the first time’.
Next to me at the bar two elderly ladies stood waiting to order their drinks and had got chatting to MIP.
‘But I had to dress like this’, the lad said.
‘Now come on, next time you tell them it’s your party and you’re not going to wear that’, the lady said in a mock angry tone.
‘I could almost hear her adding ‘I’ve seen it all now, literally!’
I left happy at having enjoyed a good, honestly priced festive pint and was warmed by the realisation that if 20 blokes walk into a bar dressed in miniskirts and dresses, it at least gives the locals something to laugh about.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Ship Inn, Fylde Road, Preston

When I talk to friends who studied at UCLan over the past decade many of them reminisce about great times aboard the Ship; the most recognisable pub in Preston on account it was painted orange.
For one or two of them to have eulogised about it, I could have put down to rose-tinted memories of happy times at university.
Lets face it you can have a good time pretty much anywhere you go during those student years.
Yet proclamations of ‘great’, ‘brilliant’ or ‘good laugh’ came far too frequently for me to dismiss their claims.
But when I arrived in Preston in 2007, all I found was an odd looking spray tanned building packed with big kids’ entertainment like punch bags and games consoles.
It was certainly crammed from wall-to-wall with every diversion imaginable to draw the students in.
But, it always seemed to be a bit of an uphill battle to keep them there and the pub seemed to be fast running out of space for gimmicks and attractions.
So, I was really pleased when a year or so ago they shut the pub and gave it a complete overhaul.
Gone was the David Dickinson tint along with all of the ‘attractions’ inside.
Instead they replaced pretty much every fixture and fitting, to create a clean, tidy and tasteful pub which would be as acceptable to your gran as it would an 18-year-old fresher.
They even installed three real ale pumps and improved the rear outside area with nice new seating and heaters.
But for some reason which I cannot quite fathom, it does not seem to have quite worked.
When Miss Chardonnay Sidekick and I visited on Wednesday there was no real ale available, though Miss Chardonnay said her wine was nice.
Neither were there any customers, save for one or two scattered around, though I think at least a couple of them were employed to operate the redundant karaoke machine.
I was also a little concerned to see the sort of tat returning which had been wisely swept away in the pub’s revamp.
Items such as lilos stuck above the bar and models of little ghoul skulls randomly dotted around the place did not bode well.
There is a board outside the pub advertising the tenancy and it seems to me almost everything is in place for it to be the student venue of choice once more.
Lilos aside it looks smart, has plenty of seating, a small stage for bands and an outdoor area.
All it needs is a bit of imagination to drag the students back and a little consistency to keep them there.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Market Tavern, Market Street, Preston

Elevated above the rest of us on a perfectly groomed whinnying high horse, the self-satisfied among our number may peer down their nose from time-to-time, to offer a little of the wisdom which has kept them galloping on such a formidable stallion.
‘Ahh but you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover’ they say, closing one eye ever so slightly to emphasise the gravity in their words.
Imagine for a moment if we didn’t judge a book by its cover and instead took everything we saw at face value.
I would be bulk buying cans of a leading brand deodorant with the expectation a couple of sprays would bring hundreds of girls flocking to my door.
The £20,000 administration fee I handed over to a nice chap on the phone who promised to deal with my Nigerian lottery win would seem very reasonable considering I was set for a £15bn windfall.
And every time spam email dropped into my junk mail box promising various mental and physical improvements, would be moments for rejoicing.
So, whenever I have walked past the Market Tavern and saw groups of homeless people doing nothing worse than using nearby alleys to get out of the rain, or the Squires nightclub crowd congregating at the front, I have immediately been put off and gone elsewhere.
But on Friday night after a meal out with Miss Chardonnay Sidekick we decided it was a night for trying places which are not on our usual drag.
Inside we found the pub clean, cosy and welcoming, as far a cry from my snapshot judgement as it could possibly be.
There are comfortable chairs on a raised seating area, as well as several booths and nooks tucked away in corners of the pub.
In the ‘Olde Worlde Preston History Championships’ The Market Tavern has put up a strong showing with old pictures and histories of individual buildings and significant historic figures.
I got a pint of Double Amber which had found its way down from the Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh and settled down for a relaxing pint in a pub which was busy but far from overrun.
Supping down my pint while sitting comfortably in my high backed chair, it was all going very nicely until that perfectly pruned high horse cantered into mind.
‘I told you so’, high horse rider proclaimed with a wink.
‘Damn it you’re right’ I growled.
‘What’s that?’ Miss Chardonnay Sidekick asked, a little confused.
‘Oh nothing’, I replied. ‘But while I think about it, that chap never called me back today about my lottery win’.